Twitter’s ubiquity in the world of the internet and apps continues to reach stark heights. Depending on the follower count of one person, one line of information can be sent out to thousands of people at a time. If those thousands of people choose to re-tweet it, that information snowballs and finds an audience of millions, with new information being put on as an addendum. This line of reasoning was the motivation behind Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to ban the site for two weeks, in fear of the elections becoming jeopardized. As more people from around the world reach out on social media, major world governments have weaponized it for their own political intentions.
Turkey’s constitutional court ruled the black-out of Twitter as a violation of free speech and expression, and the government lifted the ban on the social media site today. However, the country’s YouTube ban remains. Despite the ban lifting, Turkey, like other countries in the world, show that they have no qualms about using their power to repress the digital freedoms of their people. Erdoğan, the country’s prime minister, decided to use his power this way in light of wiretapped leaks being released to the public, and the protests that preceded the leaks when a 15-year-old student died at the hands of riot police.
Turkey’s actions are in stark contrast with the United States of America’s use of the app. There’s been no ban in the states, but the American government finds sneakier ways to weaponize the social media site. Since 2010, those working at the behest of the American government designed a mirror-image duplication of Twitter called ZunZuneo for Cuban citizens to use. Cuba is infamous for similar actions that Turkey took in the past few weeks, but their influence on internet use pervades Cuban’s everyday lives more oppressively than the Middle East country.
The plot, set in motion by American contractors, was meant to create a political rift between Cuba and its people. The rift is already there, though. Cuba is among the world’s worst human rights abusers – jailing journalists and activists alike, and oppressing people of the LGBT community. For same-sex couples, there is no option for marriage, and the country had sodomy laws in effect only until 1979.
This puts ZunZuneo, the dummy Twitter software, in perspective. With strict internet laws, Cubans rarely had an alternative to media sites like Facebook (though they can use that one). ZunZuneo lasted only two years when it completely disappeared from the country. The use of the site, however, gave Cubans an outlet to exchange opinions on anything they chose, as well as criticism of their government. With social media – Facebook, Skype, Twitter, and Tumblr – being popular devices around the world to discredit oppressive actions and to unite liberating ideas, America’s weaponization of social media continues to make more and more sense.
Another thing becoming more ubiquitous than social media itself, is social unrest. The Arab Spring of 2010 kicked off major revolutionary protests in the Arab world. Syria has most definitely seen the worst of the pushback from their government. However, other nations throughout the world have taken a page from the Arab Spring’s book. Ukraine had their protests for an overthrow of their government, which Twitter helped accelerate as a vehicle of discrediting Viktor Yanukovych, and letting the rest of the world see what was going on from individual to individual. U.S.A., though short-lived, also experienced this form of uprising when Occupy Wallstreet came to prominence. It is Venezuela, with their riots. It’s Egypt, with occupying the Square and the subsequent military coups. This is why Erdoğan banned Twitter (and continues to ban YouTube); Turkey has seen the consequences of letting social media run rampant, and now they are trying to shield themselves.
One of the most crucial underpinnings of all these revolutions happening in our world today is Twitter. Leaders of the world are learning to weaponize the website for their own political gains, but only because the people they dominate set the example first. Social media ties together people that would otherwise have no link, and it is changing the world in ways many did not think were possible.
Commentary by Tyler Collins